Mark’s Vegan Nutrition Journey

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About a month ago I convinced my dear friend Mark Brookes, who recently shared his ex father-in-laws diabetes success story, to share his own personal story of going vegan with me. It really didn’t take much convincing because Mark is such a kindhearted human! I’m thankful to know and call this exceptional  guy my friend! Here’s Mark’s Vegan journey and personal story: 

Mark 1979Mark, December 28, 1979

A compromising photo of my 20 year old self wearing an Australian cricket hat my oldest brother Chris gifted me on his return from 2 years traveling the world. The picture was taken December 28, 1979, just 20 months before I began my vegetarian diet. We were hamming it up in the backyard snapping goofy pictures of each other on a cold winter day.
 
 

My Nutrition Journey

By Mark Brookes

Jogging lead me on the first step of my transformative nutrition journey.

man-jogging

The year before I turned 21, I ran 3 miles a day. I’d been doing that continuously for about a year (even in rain, snow and storms) when on my birthday in early December 1980 my mother presented me a book on running. Having not started the book for about 6 months, I decided to open it after some hamstring muscle soreness. In one chapter detailing the benefits of yoga to runners, it suggested a book by B.K.S. Iyengar called “Light on Yoga”. I bought it and picked ten poses to practice, teaching myself yoga. Early in the practice while trying “plow” pose (Halasana) I noticed my toes wouldn’t lower to the ground over my head (they were about 2 feet off). Rereading the instructions, I saw how Iyengar advised this pose can be progressed by not eating meat. So on Monday, August 24, 1981, I intentionally skipped meat for the first time, and the next day my toes magically dropped to the ground in plow pose.

BKSILightOnYoga

Living at home while going to college, I ate my mother’s delicious and lovingly prepared food. She was bemused and tolerant at first, but toward the end of the first week she asked with a concerned tone, “Are you nearly done with this fad?” That first week I continued skipping meat one day at a time as I was curious and wanted to try it a little longer. By the end of the first week I felt lighter and better, and the mucus in my mouth and nasal passages which I thought were normal gradually disappeared; they felt “clean” for the first time in my life.  That first week turned into a month, then a year, ten years, and this summer will turn into 32 years I’ve had a vegetarian diet. Also that first year I bought the classic vegetarian cookbook “Laurel’s Kitchen” by Laurel Robertson, and at age 23 used the book to teach myself how to bake bread by hand and cook many delicious vegetarian recipes such as lentil soup. I’ve not returned to eating meat as it’s felt much better not to.

IMG_9003

What made me move to a vegan diet? In a nutshell, caution drove me to remove dairy from my diet following heightened awareness of the considerable health risks documented by consuming it. Prior to this change, gruyere or bleu cheese was an occasional favorite sprinkled over salads at restaurants. I was also fond of feta at Greek cafes, and sought out limburger when I visited Holland. I liked a crisp tangy sharp cheddar, and full-flavored parmigiano reggiano as well as monterey jack and mozzarella balls. I was almost one of those people I regularly meet who state, “I could never give up cheese!”

no cheese

But in March 2007 I had a phone conversation with my oldest brother, Chris. He told me an anecdote about his congenial dentist, whom he had recently seen. While being treated, Chris expressed frustration at steadily gaining weight and not feeling good. The dentist excused himself and returned with a hard cover copy of T. Colin Campbell’s May 2006 book, The China Study. Chris said he’d bring it back when he was done. The dentist said, “No you don’t have to; I bought a couple dozen copies for patients who I think might be open to it. It’s yours with my compliments.” Chris switched to a vegan diet shortly thereafter. Curious, I read the “The China Study” and was very impressed, learning the many negative effects on the human body of animal and especially dairy protein (casein), and its relationship to increased manifestations of a variety of cancers. I read how author Campbell lead a large research team in China testing how cancer tends to work in conjunction with three types of protein:

  • Plant-based proteins hinder the development of pre-cancer cells (which we possess already)

  • Animal-based proteins promote the development of pre-cancer cells, and

  • Dairy protein highly promotes the development of pre-cancer cells

 The-China-Study-small

The wide and multi-district human study was conducted across China (westernized and non, wealthy and poor, animal protein and plant-based, etc.) designed to try to break a little-known hypothesis originally posited by an East Indian research scientist. Having grown up on a dairy farm, Campbell found the theory preposterous, and was determined to prove it false. Studying a wide variety of populations within China I thought to be a clever idea, as it mimicked in diet variety the world at large. What especially impressed me was its consistent confirmation of the Indian scientist’s hypothesis. Not 62%, not 78%, but virtually perfect correlation. And they didn’t just test it one way. They tried to break the hypothesis, testing in every which combination of population areas you could imagine. But the same conclusions appeared again and again. They found Chinese areas where there is virtually zero breast cancer in women and unheard of prostate cancer in men. Heart disease also hardly bothers the statisticians in certain plant-based protein areas. But populations in western-influenced areas like Shanghai and Beijing reveal cancer and heart disease rates very similar to the United States.

Female Colon Cancer ChartFemale Colon Cancer Chart – notice how the numbers rise in relation to meat consumption

So on March 24, 2007, fond of preserving my good health, I made the slight shift from a vegetarian to a vegan diet and haven’t turned back. Then I kept my eyes open for a tasty replacement for animal-based cheese. One day I stumbled upon Follow Your Heart brand vegan cheese and found this brand quite tasty, without the health risks of animal product cheeses. This brand is clearly the best all-rounder in my view.

Follow your heart cheese

I wanted to learn how to avoid practicing behaviors that encourage cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other common ailments that plague many of us at shockingly younger and younger ages. This was the primary drive behind my nutritional overhaul. I was also quite interested in learning how to give my body what it’s biologically best designed to be fueled with. It has been a joyous lifelong study for me. But over the course of this journey, I’ve noticed many other benefits. To many people, easier weight control will likely get their attention. I was about 30 pounds heavier after 4 years of High School football, but gradually over a half decade on my vegetarian diet, I lost that weight and have kept it off.  Another important thing I realized was that I was no longer an active contributor to the suffering of sentient beings by providing demand for animals raised in factory conditions for human consumption. I consider the way most animals are raised to be eaten in the USA is often cruel and heartless. And with no human voice, they are potential victims of animal abuse. Herds of cattle, plethoras of pork, flocks of sheep, hordes of hens, masses of milk cows, and every egg and other animal product that has not been purchased by me has sent thousands of “No” votes to those food producers.

pigs in factory farmPigs in Factory Farms

In fact, I feel like I vote every day I go grocery shopping, not just once or twice a year for human elections. And one vote I make is against further degrading our soil, air and water. The ecological damage caused by the current food production model is well-documented and I’m against it. We have traveled quite a ways down the path of ruining this little planet with our short-term industrial policies. Politicians and industrialists complain that jobs will be lost by working to reduce the human influenced sources of climate change. Well just wait until they see how many jobs are lost when human-influenced climate change eliminates entire seafood fisheries by advancing the dead zones in our oceans and waterways from excessive CO2 acidification? And when entire cities (factories within them) are abandoned by populations fleeing exhausted fresh water supplies or dramatically risen waterfront levels, how many jobs will be lost then? Manhattan is very vulnerable in this category, so speaking of lost jobs? By the way, Rome’s fall began on the occasion of its aqueduct-delivered water supply being cut off by invaders.

Dead-zoneDead Zone, Cayman Island

By buying plant-based products, I’m sending repeated “Yes” votes to those food producers. And by deciding to invest in organically-grown produce 99% of the time, I let conventional plant-based producers know I’ll spend more on higher-quality food. When people say they can’t afford organic vegetables, I listen but feel they are often being short-sighted. This falls into the “pay me now, or pay me later” category.  I’d rather invest in my health (over other things I might more frivolously spend it on) by putting the very best fuel into my body that I can get my hands on in the most optimal way possible so that health maladies down the road are minimized. In effect I’m spending money on the highest quality food I can get now to minimize my own suffering and expensive hospital procedures later.

SickCareVersusHealthCare

I’ve also noticed mysterious stomach ailments pop up at my workplace. Coworkers suddenly can’t come in to work. The reason often stated is “stomach flu” or a “24-hour virus”. I suspect there is a lot more undiagnosed food poisoning that occurs from people ingesting “dirty” food than admitted or clearly identified. And the added chemicals (like growth hormones in dairy cows), antibiotics (in cattle) and rushed production of animal products seem to be warping human development (girls reaching puberty dramatically earlier than historically normal) and generally impaired health. I distrust many animal and dairy producers, believing many of them place short term profits over public health (unless they’re forced to). As an aside, I read about 5 years ago that drug manufacturers are so confident that they’re going to see a huge spike in American diabetes cases that they’ve ramped up construction of multiple new insulin production factories to keep up with expected demand (and sales).

 Man with stomach pain

My brother recently told me he missed certain animal-protein based foods, so abandoned his vegan (and vegetarian) diet and hasn’t been back. I’m fascinated by the pull of meat, fish, poultry, dairy and other animal proteins on humans even when they know it is harmful to their health. Isn’t it kind of like smoking cigarettes used to be socially considered in the previous century? When I see animal or dairy products, they now appear akin to metal, plastic or poison (which of course I won’t eat). So animal-based protein has kind of ceased to be “food” in my book. I’m puzzled at the expressions of horror I often get from people who ask, “How do you get your protein?” At first I used to list for them plant-based foods that contain more than adequate protein, but realizing they were usually just vicariously curious but not really interested, these days I want to find out where their beliefs originated that animal products equal protein for humans, and how much daily protein is necessary for excellent human health, and what their specific nutrition beliefs are?

Protein-In-Plant-Food

Usually they haven’t made more than a cursory study of nutrition in their lives (except sometimes extreme exclusionary ones like the “Atkins Diet”), and beliefs they have are often flawed, fractured, pop culture-based or all three. I sometimes ask, “How do you think I’ve survived 32 years in great health without protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins from animal products?” That usually gives them pause. It’s a disturbance in their belief system of how humans are supposed to get what they need to operate in an optimal way. I too am subject to the same contradictory information coming from various advertisements and “news” stories, but unlike some, I have continued diligently researching nutrition all my adult life, and have detected strong and consistent patterns that shine a spotlight on outlier information which can often be attributed to marketing messages by affected food producers (e.g. “Milk does a body good” or “Got Milk?”) who don’t want their customers to stop buying, even if it’s been documented that the substance they are selling is likely to harm people’s health.

Dairy is BadPause to think, please!

I suspect most people eat primarily for tongue and stomach pleasure (i.e. “meat hunger”), deferring for later thoughts of near and long-term health consequences of what they choose to put in their bodies. And I sympathize with these desires they sincerely express. My weakness is freshly-made French fries. People can be extremely defensive about what they put in their own body, so do not brook being questioned about their choices, so I rarely ask. When I first began my vegetarian journey and started shopping at natural food stores (often hippy owned) to find items for recipes I wanted to make, I noticed mostly older people (very few young ones, except who worked there). Many of these older people struck me as depressed, suggesting they were resigned to and/or resentful at being forced to shop there. I guessed these people had followed the dominant culture’s message of what “good food” is, putting anything they pleased in their bodies willy-nilly all their life. Then health maladies appeared which dictated a change in what they eat, or they would risk more suffering at their own hands. That realization reinforced my belief that I was probably on the right track: give my body what it is biologically designed to use, and minimize ingesting items that hurt my body, and I’ll be in healthy and happy shape as I advance through my life. This approach (knock on wood) seems to have worked out beautifully.

At the parkMark at the park

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Mark! I’d agree, it sure has worked out beautifully! You’re an inspiration to not only me but to many others! Thankful to know you!!!

~If you or someone you know has an inspirational story about being on a plant-based vegan diet that you would like to share with my readers, please email me at urbanveganchic@gmail.com  I would love to hear from you!~

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About urbanveganchic

I'm an urban chic woman, who is passionate about educating others about the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet, cancer prevention & survival, as well as art & life. I love adventures and travel. As an artist and a teacher, I care deeply about healthy living, being a conscious steward of our planet, and being kind & respectful towards animals. Learning about a vegan plant-based diet has been like discovering a new country and falling in love with it, so if I sound like I'm enamored you now know why! As a world traveler, I truly wish I had discovered this beautiful new country twenty years ago! Better late than never, as they say, cause there's no going back now! Born and raised in Scandinavia. Proud owner of a tripod cat & a foxy little pup. Speak four languages...some better than others. Working on the fifth one. We are all either part of the problem or the solution! Health & Happiness to you! ~UrbanVeganChic

7 responses »

  1. Pingback: Plant Diets can cure Fibromyalgia | The Epigenetics Project Blog

  2. As a nurse for a cancer hospital in PA and current vegetarian, reading your article brings further light to “going vegan!” I am starting a vegan lifestyle change and hope that I can stick with it for not only the health benefits that you have nicely outlined above, but also for the humane treatment of animals. Thank you for your uplifting and persuasive article. The thousands and thousands of animals not brought to slaughter by you and the readers you affect also thank you!
    Sara

    • Thank you for your kind note, Sara! I’m sure Mark will appreciate your comment as well! Yes, the issue of the thousands of animals “saved” from slaughter is very much an issue close to my heart! That and the devastating environmental impact and degradation these animals pose should be on everyone’s mind as well! We thank you back for choosing to go vegan! We’ve both gone from vegetarian to vegan and if I may speak on both of our behalf, I think Mark would agree, that there’s no going back! We don’t miss eggs, butter or dairy products. On the contrary we feel SO much better without them! Health & Happiness, Nina

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